ACLU keeping options open about what's next with "debtors' prisons"

During six-month period, 22 percent of bookings in Huron County Jail involved warrants for failure to pay fines.
Cary Ashby
Apr 11, 2013


The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hopes its research into suspected "debtors' prison practices" -- which is believed to be statewide -- will allow courts to "take this opportunity to enact reform and put an end" to the problem.

The results of an investigation by the ACLU charges Huron County, specifically Norwalk Municipal Court, with being one of 11 counties that jails people for being too poor to pay their legal fines.

"We will be sharing this information with the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, who has expressed interest in meeting to discuss this issue. We are scheduled to meet on Thursday, April 18, 2013," said Jocelyn Rosnick, an ACLU policy researcher and post-graduate legal fellow.

The ACLU investigation looked at Huron County bookings from May through the end of October 2012.  "Over a six-month period, approximately 22 percent of the total bookings in the Huron County Jail were related to warrants issued for contempt for failure to pay fines," Rosnick said.

A story about this subject, including the responses of local officials, was published in Friday's Norwalk Reflector. So you don't miss stories such as this one, sign up for home delivery by calling 419-668-3771 or subscribe to the e-paper (a complete digital replica of each issue) for less than $1 per week and read the full-version of the stories online.



Setting aside all the non-sensical rhetoric for a moment, can't we all agree that jail space should be used for violent criminals instead of people who don't pay fines and court costs? Can't we all agree that the police should be spending their time tracking down real criminals instead of serving bench warrants and arresting people for failing to pay fines and cost?

Jail space and the time of the police are limited resources. Couldn't those resurces be better spent on real criminals instead of debtors? There must be a better way than the current broken system. We don't have to "reinvent the wheel" here. I'm sure some other communities have come up with a better solution for the debtor problem. Why doesn't OUR court do a little research and find a better solution?


Very well said jas.
It still all lies within the limits of responsibility and accountability.

Cliff Cannon

@ jas : I very much agree with what you've written here. However, I must ask : What is the better solution ? Particularly ,one that is " constitutional " ?

You being a lawyer, you would no doubt agree if a criminal law can not be enforced, it is not really a " law " is it ? And if convicted criminal--- no matter the scale--- knows little or nothing in the way of punishment is going to come of that conviction. Doesn't " society " have a massive problem ?


Make them work to pay it off. Everyone can pick up a lawn mower, rake or shovel. Seriously!


First of all, most criminal violations have both incarceration and fines as possible punishments. If the Judge knows a person is unlikely to pay his fines due to his past history of not paying, give him more time in jail instead at sentencing instead of wasting everybody's time with "fine" hearings. Secondly, the constitutional problem is the way the hearings are held and sending people to jail without giving them a chance to explain why they haven't been paid. The best solution, in my opinion, is to reduce the fines and costs owed to a civil judgement against the person then turn it over to a collection agency. Stop wasting Court time, police time, and jail space on debtors. They're not worth it.


That is logical jas, no doubt there should be a better solution.
Don't know why I'm so worried about it,I pay my debts and try to stay out of troubles way and those who create it.
I guess because I have seen so many in trouble,some who asked for it,
others who just got caught up in it, made bad choices or enabled it.
Refers back to...
"If you're not doing anything wrong,you have nothing to worry about."
It feels good!

Cliff Cannon

@ jas : O.K. I see your point. Obviously, though more jail time, means more cost to society, with less return on er,ah 'investment' ( fines ) to pay some of these jail costs.

I like very much your idea of turning over the fine collections to a collecting agency. With this caveat: The laws must change to give the collecting agency a real chance of collecting. As it is now ( my understanding ) a collecting agency has the same chances of collecting as I do. ( Not real good)

So I in turn come to the same conclusion as you do regarding way to many debtors " They're not worth it "

Thankfully, I am not a judge trying to enforce the laws of the land, in an increasingly lawless society.

P.S. Does " NeverSpeechLess " have a constitutionally workable idea to make the convicted work their fines oFF ? Hope so. Because, I really love that idea.


"Working fines off" IS a good idea but it too comes with an additional cost. You have to hire people to make sure that those in the work program are doing what they are suppose to be doing. Usually, it costs more to supervise them that it's worth. Additional insurance coverage is often needed as well. The collection agency solution is the most cost effective, in my opinion. As my grandma use to say, "You can't get blood out of turnip" and unfortunately, those who make up the debtor problem are the really big turnips.


Jas, are you saying there should be no criminal sanction for not paying fines? What happens when the collection agency can't collect? I don't like the idea of a private entity collecting public funds. I agree there is no easy answer.

Cliff Cannon

@ Jas & dontcare : " I agree there is no easy answer " I think " dontcare " really nailed it.

Makes me very glad,I am not Judge Ridge trying to " get blood out of a turnip "

Great day's to you both

Now The Rest of...

happyfeet64, we get it the law does not apply to you or personal responsibility, another frequent flyer of the system getting a forum for this rehashed article. If the court would have forfeited your license, blocked your license plate and placed the unpaid fine on your credit report you still would be a "victim" in your world.

Register Light, whats the problem Mill Street Bistro hasn't added a new fresh catch frozen special today?


I never said the law doesn't apply to me or in any way say I don't accept responsibility for my actions or the consequences of my behavior. My point was solely this- there are extenuating circumstances. Why would you continue to break the law or think you are above it is beyond me. As a judge, you are taught ethics,compassion and how human relations figure into your judgements.So, why would you continue to believe what was done to me and many others is ethical and accepted? I wasn't trying to play a sympathy card and never would. I also know that not everything is black or white. I am a responsible adult who ALWAYS accepts responsibility and the consequences of my actions. I have morals, values and standards that I live by and have taught my children the same. I also have compassion and empathy for others that you obviously don't have.Oh, by the way- I am the person you've been warned against- I am a politically active,educated woman who votes,opinionated and have no qualms of expressing that opinion. I probably have bigger bollocks than most men and am proud of that. My moral code is the Wiccan Rede and I'm also a card carrying Socialist. There's some fuel for your fire, my friend! lol

Now The Rest of...

Card carrying socialist witch, I am guessing thats your weak attempt at sarcasm. Legal action in two courts, thats your definition of a responsible adult who always accept responsibility, I agree with you, now thats sarcasm. Extenuating circumstances, don't do the crime if you can't do the time, thats personal responsibility and accepting the consequences of your actions.

Kottage Kat

I also qualify just try to pick my battles